May

09

2013

Justin Taylor|12:41 pm CT

Ratifying Mark Sanford’s Narrative

Mark Sanford's teenage son meets his father's mistress-turned-fiancée for the first time at this victory party following the primary.

Mark Sanford, upon winning a U.S. house seat from South Carolina less than two years after an extramarital affair and divorce with plans to marry his mistress, said:

“Some guy came up to me the other day and said you look a lot like Lazarus,” Sanford told the crowd Tuesday night, referring to the man who, according to the Bible, Christ raised from the dead. “I’ve talked a lot about grace during the course of this campaign,” he said. “Until you experience human grace as a reflection of God’s grace, I don’t think you really get it. And I didn’t get it before.”

“I want to acknowledge a God not just of second chances,” Sanford said in his victory speech in Charleston, referring to his first TV ad in which he asked voters to support him despite his past problems. “But a God of third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth chances because that is the reality of our shared humanity.”

Ross Douthat reacts:

Because of course when Jesus told his disciples to forgive sinners seven times seven times, what he really meant was that they should affirm people in whatever they’ve done and want to do and then return them to high office as swiftly as possible. And when he raised Lazarus from the dead, it was likewise a sign that no political ambition need ever be set aside or abandoned, no matter how the politician in question has failed the public trust. For that matter, who can forget the famous gospel passage where John the Baptist officiated at King Herod’s second marriage, and then encouraged the Roman government to give Herod a few new titles and honors? I’m surprised Sanford didn’t reference that one!

If you think, as I obviously do, that we have more than enough Sanford-style religion in America, then the way he used the megaphone afforded by victory to do a little creative scriptural interpretation illustrates the problem with just bracketing a politician’s private life and saying “vote the party, not the man.” When that private life is already woven into the public narrative, a vote for the man is often a vote to ratify that narrative, and to lend one’s support not only to particular policies, but to a larger view of human behavior and affairs — encompassing, in this case, a theologically bankrupt and socially destructive understanding of what real redemption actually involves.

You can read the whole thing here.

Update: Rod Dreher has a good post contrasting Sanford’s actions with that of John Profumo, the disgraced British cabinet minister caught in a sex scandal who retired from public life.

We need to be careful here not to buy into a works-righteousness mentality that pays back infidelity and shame with a meritorious stream of good works that will balance things out. At the same time, is it really too much to ask (to use Jonah Goldberg’s wording) that “maybe the interval between scandal and rehabilitation could last a little longer than the maturation time of a fruit fly”?

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